A second term for Somalia President is fraught with leadership risks

By Musse A. Bidar

The make-up of the Somali National Army is an institutional problem that President Mohamud will need to tackle

On 15 May 2022, Somali MPs and Senators elected a President (a former President). It was the most significant indirect election in East Africa. People of Mogadishu expected a political change, but not a change that will return a former president to Villa Somalia. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud inherits mildly reformed government institutions, but he returns to the presidency with political baggage. In September 2012 when he was elected President after the end of the transition, President Mohamud had the advantage of being a political novice with a track record in playing a role to rebuild post-1991 educational institutions.  

His performance during his first term of office does not inspire much confidence in what he will be able to accomplish. Two sets of challenges are awaiting him: (1) his political legacy and (2) the legacy of his successor-predecessor, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. People judge President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for his record, as well as what his successor had accomplished.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud used the political power to enrich his immediate family and hangers-on.  In 2017 the Financial Governance Report drew attention to power misuse under President Hassan Mohamud’s reign: “There have been a number of recent reports of disposal of public lands and assets in Mogadishu to private individuals and enterprises on unclear terms.” The former Presidential Candidate Abdirahman Abdishakur accused President Mohamud of imposing service fee on porters at Mogadishu Airport to benefit a company formed by one of President Mohamud’ close family members.  In 2013v President Mohamud embarked on an asset recovery initiative that culminated in the arrest of the American lawyer whom the Federal Government of Somalia appointed to identify which banks hold frozen Somalia assets.

Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire put on hold proposed investigations into public assets sold under the watch of President Mohamud. Outcome of investigations is still a key indicator of progress made against corruption and misuse of political power. It is unlikely that President Mohamud will allow the investigations to resume, but he has the political obligation to appoint an independent committee to start investigations that the Financial Governance Committee sees as a cornerstone of good governance.

Keating knew Somalia does not have an inclusive army

The make-up of the Somali National Army is another institutional problem that President Mohamud needs to tackle. He might lay off soldiers trained in Eritrea; their compensation was negotiated on the back of fiscally important, limited security reforms carried out in Mogadishu and nearby region. Majority of troops are from clans based in Mogadishu, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Hiiraan. When the former Somalia Parliament extended the mandate of the former President in 2021, the army broke up into two, with one group calling itself Badbaado Qaran (National Salvation). President Mohamud, then a member of an “apposition alliance”, supported the split. Without a genuine audit of the army based on the 4.5 power-sharing arrangement, the Federal Government’ security policies will create more distrust. In March 2017, Micheal Keating, the former SRSG visiting Oslo, used the Marka-based forces as an example of a clan militias posing as national army. “Somali National Army is largely from one clan, and within that clan it’s from one subclan. It’s not completely a nationally owned army” Micheal Keating said.

“A leader is not only in charge of looking after money; he must leave the office when his term comes to an end” President Mohamud said recently, oblivious to crediting his predecessor with a track record of not embezzling public money. President Mohamud seems to have been egged on by a very undiplomatic 2019 British Parliament report that paved the way for campaigning in his clan’s stronghold: “ [President] Farmajo has faced challenges from the powerful Abgal sub-clan of the Hawiye clan, which felt under-represented in his government. During 2017 some went so far as to call for Prime Minister Khaire to be replaced by one of their own. But his did not happen.”

Unbounded political pragmatism characterised his first term of office. To get closer to the TPLF regime in pre-2018 Ethiopia, President Mohamed signed a bilateral agreement that allowed for the deployment of Ethiopian troops in violation of the agreement signed by the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. To cap it all, he attended a celebration of TPLF achievements and wore a TPLF cap. 

 President Mohamud mixes strands of warlordism sentiments and religious opportunism, a political cocktail that can undo the negligible governance progress in Somalia. Getting a second electoral chance to lead Somalia does not entitle a corrupt leader to the opportunity to impose political amnesia on the ruled.